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Dieselpunk

Because Steam Punk isn't dirty enough. Dieselpunk hovercraft by Alexey Lipatov.
A Punk Punk genre of Speculative Fiction based on the 1920s - 1950s period, spiced up with retro-futuristic innovations and occult elements. The dieselpunk narrative is characterized by conflict vs the undefeatable (nature, society, cosmic), strong use of technology, and Grey and Gray Morality. The protagonists are often Heroic Neutral and have low social status.

Generally, dieselpunk can take inspiration from 1920s German Expressionist films, Film Noir, 1930s Pulp Magazines and Radio Dramas, Crime and wartime comics, period propaganda films and newsreels, wartime pinups, and other entertainment of the early 20th century. As this covers a broad spectrum, the precise sources of inspiration can vary greatly between dieselpunk works. Like Steam Punk, Dieselpunk is a genre dictated primarily by its aesthetics rather than by its thematic content. Both grime and glamour have their place in dieselpunk.

Dieselpunk overlaps with Two-Fisted Tales and Raygun Gothic, but differs mostly in its Punk Punk theme. Two-Fisted Tales explore settings such as Heroic Fantasy, Space Opera, etc that are not properly a part of Dieselpunk, and Raygun Gothic tends to describe a period both chronologically and technologically later. Typically, Dieselpunk roots itself in urban and wartime settings of the 1920s to the late 1940s, both literally and figuratively 'down to earth'.

A common point of divergence from our timeline is that The Great Depression never happened, leading to further economic and technological growth and less of the warmongering typical of the inter-war era. World War II may still happen in some Dieselpunk settings, see below.

The term Dieselpunk was popularized by Lewis Pollak and Dan Ross in 2001 as the genre for their RPG Children of the Sun. Pollak stated that it was intended to be on the "darker, dirtier side of Steam Punk" and should be considered a "continuum between steampunk and Cyber Punk."[1]. (On the other hand, noted reviewer Ken Hite described Children as "Not really diesel, and not really punk.")

To be noted: unlike the 2000s, the Diesel-powered car in the 1930s was a rare curiosity, only a single model being put into small-scale production in Germany during that age (and almost exclusively used as a taxi), but on the other side the vast majority of the population could not afford cars back then. The life of an ordinary citizen was far deeper influenced by the oil-burning locomotive, bus, ocean liner or neighborhood power plant. Still, during this period steam engines were gradually being replaced by diesel engines in many areas.

Dieselpunk settings

General

Vastness is key. This was the age of the Zeppelin, the modern battleship and the ocean liner, the flying-boat airliner, and the skyscraper. It also saw the first multinational corporations, large-scale social engineering, and mass political movements. World War I was still fresh in memory as the Great War, the most colossal conflict in the history of mankind. Man is dwarfed by his creations and things are subsumed into abstractions.

Period technology encompasses everything found in Steam Punk, but internal combustion and electric power in combination with new materials (better alloys, plastics, etc) makes machinery lighter, stronger, and more versatile. The airliner is the prime example of this, but cars, trucks, tractors, and diesel-powered electrical generators are even more important in reshaping the world. Armored vehicles and useable submarines are less common but still important innovations. Wireless radio leads to the rise of broadcasting as an information medium. Anachronistic super-advanced technology, often of the Awesome, but Impractical variety, such as Giant Flyer, Spider Tank, Disintegrator Ray might occur. Such technology might be secret super weapons of a villain, or Homemade Inventions by the hero or his friends.

Although the dieselpunk aesthetic can overlap with Raygun Gothic, and though dieselpunk is known for featuring Tesla technology and Wunderwaffen-style super-weapons, dieselpunk typically does not include transistor-based technology, other electronics or atomic power. In fact, another Punk Punk genre, Atompunk, was coined to describe fiction in this mode. Atompunk (such as the Fallout series and the comic book Fear Agent) takes inspiration from 1950s-era aesthetics and fashions such as Googie architecture and Jetsons-style technology, which typically lie outside the bounds of dieselpunk. The analogue sci-fi of Metropolis and Things To Come are closer to the dieselpunk tradition as it stands.

Dieselpunk often focuses upon air travel and combat, including such ideas as literal "flying fortresses", air pirates, dirigibles, early UFOs, hotshot flyboy pilots, etc. Fascination for military hardware, weaponry and uniforms of the early 20th century is also often in evidence and a great amount of dieselpunk media is concerned with war, especially the Second World War and and fictional variations upon it. Owing to its pulp roots, dieselpunk is often very adventure-based, full of exotic locales such as Mysterious Antarctica, The Shangri-La, Hollow Earth etc. Some Geographic Flexibility is to be expected.

Dieselpunk fiction can encompass the supernatural as well. In dieselpunk adventure, occult practices are Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, and maybe Magicians Are Wizards. The works of H.P. Lovecraft, tales of Nazi occult research, contemporary expeditions to 'mystical' places such as Egypt, and early research into relativity and quantum physics have greatly contributed to the occult mystique that informs dieselpunk. This tends to contrast with the 19th-century Gothic themes and spiritualism that show up in Steam Punk.

As dieselpunk is a post-modern look at the past, it is not limited to the tropes and stereotypes that characterized fiction of the day — instead, it can use these tropes to comment upon the past and reinvent it. Dieselpunk (along with steampunk) can encompass a range of authorial voices and themes. Female characters in dieselpunk tend to be strong, encompassing flappers to pin-up girls and much more, and can include Rosie the Riveter-type action heroines, glamourous femme fatales, costumed crusaders, archaeologist badasses, dragon ladies, tough-talking reporters and other types common to pulp fiction of the era. Both male and female characters are typically Badass Normals with universal drivers' licenses.

Sub-subgenres are listed below as possible options of exploration, but as these categorizations may only describe one or two works, if any, they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Diesel Deco/Deco Punk

Also called "Ottensian" Dieselpunk after Nick Ottens, some guy on the Internet, who postulated it. This is the most optimistic form of dieselpunk. Progress seems unstoppable and the future is bright. Things are designed to be stylish and opulent, ornamental and efficient at the same time. Think Bauhaus architecture and design, Art Deco, Expressionism, the 1939 New York World Fair. A good setting for a Science Hero.

Diesel Noir

Similar to Diesel Deco, but generally Darker and Edgier. Emphasizes the downside of economic and technological progress. Society is plagued by crime and corruption, technology seems to be at its most effective in producing increasingly effective weaponry. The occult basically amounts to Black Magic (including exotic religions), Sealed Evil in a Can might turn up in an archeological dig and subsequently have to be stopped to avoid The End of the World as We Know It.

Diesel Weird War

World War II is being waged (or World War I in some instances), but one or both sides are introducing superweapons, alien technology and/or occult forces into the mix, often with one or more Mad Scientists behind it all. For a less extreme variant, something like the real-life exploits of the nascent Special Air Service in collaboration with the Long Range Desert Group (briefly, Lawrence of Arabia upgraded with blast-incendiary explosives and "gunship jeeps").

Diesel Dystopia

Also called "Piecraftian" Diesel Punk, again named for some guy on the Internet. World War II did start and may still be in progress; if it isn't, either some kind of Cold War is being waged, or a One World Order has been established. Either way, The Government is intrusive and ruthless, ostensibly to protect the citizens. The political ideology might be any kind of totalitarianism, either one of the many real life examples of the period, a mashup of those, or a completely fictional analogue.

Diesel Desolation

World War II did start and ended because there isn't anything left to fight over, and very few resources left to fight with, or even to sustain civilization. It's essentially a post-apocalyptic milieu, and certainly not a very common dieselpunk flavor.

See also the article How dieselpunk Works.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Period Works 
Dieselpunk is a modern genre, but some of the films and books of the period fit well, in the same fashion that Jules Verne's books can be posed as Steam Punk.

    Film 

Films not specifically dieselpunk, but which are related or inspirational to the genre:
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou? does to the interbellum/Depression period what other dieselpunk films do to the deco and war periods.
  • Sin City doesn't actually include dieselpunk tech elements (although an incredibly high-tech medical science is at least hinted at), but as a revisionist neo-noir, it's definitely got a dieselpunk attitude.
  • Elements of Up, especially the younger days of Carl and his hero, explorer Charles F. Muntz.
  • Inglourious Basterds

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Dick Tracy (1931-), even at the time of its creation, included sci-fi elements that made it influential on dieselpunk.
  • Several comics by Dean Motter including:
    • Mister X (1984-1990)
    • Terminal City (1996-1998)
    • Electropolis (2001-2002)
  • Sandman Mystery Theatre (1993-1999) brought us a Grim Dark pulp superhero fighting serial killers and bizarre menaces in a 1930s City Noir.
  • Hellboy (1993-) and its spinoffs such as Lobster Johnson. And B.P.R.D. (2002-)
  • Astro City (1995-2010)
  • The Nevermen (2000, 2003) features mechanically enhanced '40s-era fighters keeping the city safe from crazed supervillains.
  • Iron and the Maiden (2007)
  • Atomic Robo (2007-) is a walking incarnation of this trope who's matured over the decades (he's been punching all kinds of strangeness in the face since the 30's) into an all-around Science Hero.
  • Ignition City (2009)
  • First Wave DCU (2009-2010) is a cross between Diesel Noir and Two-Fisted Tales, with many of the Pulp Magazine heroes crossing over with newspaper comics' The Spirit and another guy from the Thirties.
  • Marvel Noir:
    • Iron Man Noir (2010), featuring Tony Stark's "repulsor pump" pacemaker, the Iron Man armor itself, and Baron Stucker's lightning-hurling Power Fist — not to mention background stuff like the sleek super zeppelins. It's unique among the Noir stories for not even trying to be realistic.
    • X-Man Noir is the least fantastic of the Marvel Noir settings, but introduces one dieselpunk element in the story Mark of Cain, the Office of National Emergency's Dirigi-Carrier.
  • Carbon Grey (2011-)
  • Dust by Paolo Parente, the inspiration for the Dust series of Table Top Games below.

    Literature 
  • Arguably, Atlas Shrugged (1957) which seems to be taking place in an Alternate Universe 1940s where WWII never happened, most of the world went Communist, and someone invented, then destroyed, a futuristic power generator that converts atmospheric static electricity into direct current. The setting qualifies, but the theme is D'Punk inside out, with typical protagonist/antagonist roles reversed.
  • The planet Saraksh in Prisoners of Power (1969), one of the Noon Universe novels of the Strugatsky Brothers. There are several dieselpunk Human Aliens civilizations in the series. Practically all of them are Fantastic Aesop attempts at Getting Crap Past the Radar about the state of Soviet society and the military during the Cold War era. One particularly disturbing case was the ironically-codenamed planet "Hope", which suffered from a severely polluted environment for years and was struck one day by a mysterious Depopulation Bomb. It's been a Ruins of the Modern Age Scavenger World ever since.
  • The Iron Dream (1972) by Norman Spinrad
  • Ian Mc Donald's Desolation Road (1988) and Ares Express (2001) are a mix of this, Desert Punk and Cyberpunk with the non-city areas being Desert Punk and the cities being a mix of Diesel and Cyber.
  • Doc Sidhe (1995, 2001) by Aaron Allston mixes dieselpunk with Urban Fantasy
  • Taylor Anderson's Destroyermen (2008-) series is this mixed with Ocean Punk. Its titular heroes are the crew of a World War II destroyer that gets transported via a time-space rift to the Pacific Ocean of an Earth where the dinosaur-killing asteroid never hit and evolution took a different course.
  • Jonathan L. Howard's Johannes Cabal series straddles this and Steam Punk.
  • Though Leviathan (2009) by Scott Westerfeld is definitely in the Steam Punk genre by how it's presented and what kind of story it is, the Clanker technology is more dieselpunk, as they frequently use gas, oil, kerosene, and diesel, not just steam. Also, the Darwist's "beasties" are a good example of Bio Punk.
  • The novel Bitter Seeds (2010) by Ian Tregillis , which is set during a WW2 where psychic Nazi supers fight demon-summoning British blood-sorcerers. Quite GrimDark.
  • Dreadnought (2010) by Cherie Priest. Thanks to the Republic of Texas discovering oil fifty years early, the Confederates are quite proud of their 'walker' which runs on diesel as opposed to the steam-driven Union mecha. Coal-diesel engines are also used by paddlesteamers and the eponymous Cool Train.
  • Ghosts Of Manhattan (2010) by George Mann takes place in a world that is moving from Steam Punk (coal driven cars, airships) to this (biplanes with rocket boosters) with hints of Ray Gun Gothic (holographic statues and videophones).
  • Iskriget (The Ice War) (2011) by Swedish SF author Anders Blixt is an "antarctic" spy adventure taking place in an alternate 1940, in which German and Czech republicans rebel against the heavy-handed rule of the Habsburg emperor. It includes, among other genre attributes, diesel-electric Miyazaki-style cloudships and ice juggernauts.
  • Empire State (2012) by Adam Christopher is this taking place across several dimensions and times and combines Noir with Weird War as the eponymous Empire State is in a never ending war with a mysterious Enemy.
  • The flashback segments of Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker have elements of this, particularly the train and submarine used by Edie's employers.
  • The Tales Of The Ketty Jay take place in a Magitek dieselpunk world of airships and jet fighters.
  • Larry Correia's Literature/Grimnoir Chronicles combines this, magic wielding mutants called Actives and Alternate History.
  • A major pl of Ack Ack Macaque by Gareth L. Powell is a MMPORG starring the title character set in a Weird War WWII featuring things like tripod tanks and Nazi ninjas.

    Live Action TV 
  • Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982-1983), a single-season series from The Eighties of the Deco and Two-Fisted Tales variety.
  • In a Fringe (2008-) episode, Brown Betty had a world straight out of the 1950s, yet everyone was using (Retraux) cell phones and computers. And Walter's lap took it Up to Eleven.
  • Caprica (2010): The SyFy channel's Battlestar Galactica spinoff is a mix of dieselpunk and cyberpunk. The in-story virtual game "New Cap City", which plays an important role in the series is pure Diesel Punk of the Noir variety.
  • In 2010, Toyota created an ad series for their Avalon series that were decidedly dieselpunk. The first, "Train", was set in an art deco train station (complete with a Twentieth Century Limited-inspired locomotive), where the characters are wearing 1940s-inspired clothes and a cover of Mr. Sandman by Pomplamoose plays in the background. The second, "Plane", depicted men and women in 1940s-inspired aviation uniforms as a Douglas DC-3 flew in the background.

    Music 
  • The emerging musical genre known as electro-swing captures the essence of dieselpunk through remixing vintage jazz-style music and swing with modern technology and house beats.
  • The video for Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal was very dieselpunk, set in a speakeasy with flappers and gangsters, but with a lot of punk attitude and fantastic goings-on.

    Tabletop Games 

    Toys 

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 

Steam Punk IndexPunk PunkRaygun Gothic
The Roaring TwentiesHollywood HistoryWeimar Republic
Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?ImageSource/InternetDigital Avatar
Mega CityDiesel PunkThe Chronicles Of Taras
Damn It Feels Good to Be a GangsterThe Roaring TwentiesDry Crusader

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